September 5, 2016

Israel 2.0? Is the Church the New Israel?

by Clint Archer

2 point 0Here’s an idea if you ever decide to play a sadistic but entertaining prank to humble your precocious young nephew. I’m not saying I’ve done it (my sister might read this), but if I did, this is how I would:

Start by supplying him with an innocuous “spot the difference” challenge that he can easily conquer. The two pictures should have several obvious differences. Then you hand him one where the differences are more subtle, and take longer to notice. Then, once his confidence is primed, you raise the stakes with an incentive of a sugary reward, say, one M&M per difference he spots. When he greedily accepts, you hand him two pictures that unbeknown to him are actually identical, and then leave him to stew in his frustration.

Just be sure the photocopy you use is of high quality. In my experience estimation, a determined enough youngster will exploit the minutest discrepancies in the print-quality to garnish his chocolaty bounty.

It doesn’t take a preternatural eye for detail to spot the differences between Israel and the Church. And yet, many Christians ignore the clear distinction in favor of an emphasis on a vague similitude.

Perhaps you’ve heard it phrased this way: “The Church has replaced Israel as the recipient of God’s covenants,” or more bluntly “The Church is the New Israel.”

What I am arguing is that the Church has not replaced Israel and is not the modern day recipient of the blessings made to Israel. Promises made to Israel (e.g. land, cursing such as exile for disobedience, and restoration after repentance), are not now promises to the Church because Israel 1.0 has been replaced by a new Israel 2.0 like an old operating system that gets deleted to make room for a new one.

Wave pools and Sand boxes

If you’re Googling this topic, its technical name is the continuity/discontinuity debate. Continuity/discontinuity is a spectrum, much the way light is. On the one side we have a very “flowing” wave-like nature. In that view Israel’s promises flow easily to the Church.

In that wave-pool they sing “Father Abraham had many sons, … I am one of them and so are you” (irrespective of your ethnicity, as long as you have faith you are an Israelite). And when they read verses where God makes positive promises to Israel, those promises are transferable to the Christian Church.

Israel, the Church, and the promises of blessing are all fungible pieces that click in any combination. Remove Israel, click in the Church and the same promises can be claimed. Although for some reason the promises of cursing only click with Israel and do not apply to the Church.

For example Jeremiah 29:11-13 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”

Continuity says, “Yay! God knows the plans he has for me and they are good, because that’s what Jeremiah said to the people of God, and we in the Church are now the people of God.”jeremiah29_11_image

On the other end of the spectrum however, we have the more grainy, particle-nature of discontinuity.  In this sandbox of discontinuity, the promises of God are seen as applying only to those to whom God made the promises, and to no one else. So they don’t sing much about Abraham.

In the discontinuity sandbox verses about the plans God has for Israel are kept in immediate context. So they will read the verses above and below the Jeremiah 29 promise that you’ve seen embroidered on throw cushions:

For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, …

…and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. … your kinsmen who did not go out with you into exile: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, behold, I am sending on them sword, famine, and pestilence, and I will make them like vile figs that are so rotten they cannot be eaten.”

And then the famous verses 11 – 13 will have meaning for Israel only.

Your hermeneutic will determine where you land on this spectrum. The more you tend towards a grammatical-historical hermeneutic the more you will read the verses in their context with applicability to Israel only. The less you adhere to this principle the more likely you are to mix and match Israel and the Church.

Spot the differences

So what are some of the obvious differences between Israel and the Church? I’m glad you asked…

spot the differenceIsrael is a nation, but the Church is made up of people from all nations. This means Israelites are ethnically related to Abraham, while Christians may or may not be genetically descended from Abraham.

Israel’s worship was centralized—to be an Israelite you had to live in Israel and worship in Jerusalem, but the Church is decentralized, so you can live anywhere and worship anywhere (John 4).

Israel consisted of anyone born into the nation, whether they were faithful, believing worshippers of God, or not, but the Church consists of only believers.

Why does it matter?

Where you are on this spectrum will determine much of your understanding of the Old Testament. It will determine how you interpret and apply promises of blessing and cursing made to Israel (do you claim the promises as your own?), the applicability of laws given to Israel and even eschatology. Very significantly, it affects your view of baptism.

Logically, the more you favor the continuity approach, the more you will favor infant baptism, because to be in Israel you were born into the “covenant community” of believers and unbelievers who lived under the umbrella of the covenants and took a sign of the covenant (originally circumcision) to show that. You are now likely to consider the baptism of babies born to Christian parents as a continuation of the sign of being in the covenant community.

However, if you favor discontinuity, you will see members of the new body, not as born into the community, but as joining the community only when they trust in Jesus, irrespective of their parents’ standing with God. The sign of this is baptism by immersion as a believer as commanded to the Church in the New Testament.

Wherever you are on this spectrum though, always remember the most important similarity….our faith in Jesus, the one sent into this world to die our death, to take the punishment for our sins and who will one day present us perfect to his Father.

Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • Robert Andrejczyk

    Pastor Clint,

    I thank you for all of your thoughtful posts. You have written much that has helped me to think through issues – OR to make me think through issues I had not thought about before.

    But, brother, whenever The Cripplegate wades into the Covenantal (CT) v.s. Dispy (DT) debate…not so helpful. It is difficult to get past the caricatures of CT that appear in seemingly every paragraph. For instance:

    I grew up Dispy and it has only been in the last few years that I have been convinced of the CT position. However, with my limited knowledge, I can tell you that no Covenant theologian would agree with either of these statements:

    Perhaps you’ve heard it phrased this way: “The Church has replaced Israel as the recipient of God’s covenants,” or more bluntly “The Church is the New Israel.”

    CT talks about fulfillment, NOT replacement. No CT proponent would embrace what is implied with the phrase “replacement theology.” This combined with other misrepresentations throughout your article will not really encourage any serious engagement with CT.

    • Thanks for your gracious tone. I respect your objection; I guess I’m reacting to a more extreme view than the moderate CT position. This post was adapted from a letter I wrote to a person who asked me specifically to show why I believe the Church is not the New Israel. I wasn’t addressing a position as much as an individual who had a misconception that I have run into repeatedly in South Africa (probably due to the teachings of the Dutch Reformed church, which is ubiquitous here).

      I do, however, think that no matter how one nuances it, the end result of a CT view is that the promises made to Israel are seen as fulfilled in the Church, but I view some promises as only being able to be fulfilled in a national Israel, which makes me a Futurist with some Dispensational flavors.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment in a reasonable and amicable way.

      • Robert Andrejczyk

        If you are looking for some listening material for your workouts, I recommend R. Scott Clark’s — Mr. Truly Reformed 🙂 — current Heidelcast series, “I Will Be Your God and Your Children’s God” ( beginning with Episode 105). He explains well the covenants and responds to many objections made by Dispensationalists and others. I think it will challenge you and help you to interact with CT arguments. Grace and Peace.

    • Jason

      I also found I was a contradiction of every single statement made about what I would believe as a continuity proponent…

      For instance, the promise made to Israel in Jeremiah is not only not a promise for the church today, but not for anyone today. It was specifically a promise to return Israel to prosperity after it was under judgement and sent into captivity. This promise was already completely fulfilled long ago.

      I also believe that the church is made up only of believers and think infant baptism misses the point. In Romans 11, Paul sees himself and the other disciples as the remnant of Israel and speaks of gentiles and unbelieving Jews being grafted into that kingdom as the gospel reaches them and they believe. He believes that to be sufficient evidence that God’s promises to Israel have not been broken.

      The genetic link is not the important one, as Paul states explicitly in Romans 9:6 and John the Baptist warns in Matthew 3:9. Really, the idea of “covenant children” is the same mistake people make when they think that physical relation to Abraham has bearing. Instead, anyone who is in Christ is a son of Abraham (Galatians 3:29).

      The spot the differences section covers a lot of topics that actually snapped me out of my Dispensation upbringing.

      Israel *is* a nation. A kingdom under the line of David, according to scriptures. Many of the promises made to Israel are regarding a time when their kingdom will span the earth and the seed of David will reign for eternity. Believers are this holy nation (1 Peter 2:9), though exiles at this time in the nations of this world.

      Regarding the location of worship: Jesus, in John 4, certainly speaks of how true worship has nothing to do with location. Are we really to believe that he means that true worship may still be dependent upon location, depending upon genealogy? Further, the language speaks in terms of a transition and not a completely different system that will run in parallel or stamp out the old.

    • Rach

      Actually I know plenty who hold to CT that will go back and put New Cov Christians or “God’s people” as they will render passages that say “Israel” and are clearly speaking of the Old Cov national ethnic Israel because they blanket NT verses like in Christ there is no longer Jew or Greek and then read that fact that IN Christ ethnicity does not benefit one over the other, they will take that verse and blanket that over any concept or teaching of a national ethnic Israel (who are not IN Christ at present). Specifically that God could have an Ethnic Israel who are also elect True Israel ie. Saul/Paul would be one example.

      But this is not the whole of the CT community but it is very much there, and alot of times even passages in the NT that are clearly referring to ethnic Israel/Jews they are reinterpreted to simply mean “God’s people”, ignore any ethnic connotations of the passage/verse.

      Just today like each morning (because I love his ministry) I listened to a podcast of a very sound reformed Baptist pastor who read James 1:1:

      James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
      To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:

      And he did explain how the ethnic Jews were scattered under the Roman empire (similar to 1 Pet 1:1), but he still went on to explain away the description of the Twelve Tribes because it denoted ethnicity and he went on to make the 12 Apostles the “spiritualized” meaning of The Twelve Tribes. He restated the passage as referring to a generic “God’s people” Jew & gentile and replaced the 12 Tribes with the 12 Apostles and he imported Peter’s and the NT in general’s referring to all Christians as exiles and sojourners on the earth, but he explained away James’ ethnic connotation using Peter’s use of the word exile (below), he literally said we should take the 12 Tribes not ethnically but spiritually referring to the 12 Apostles

      1 Peter 2:11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.

      And this is why non CT Christians refer to CT as replacement theology, some do so not so graciously, I do see where there is fulfillment, but more often than not it is replacement from what I see in CT believers.

      I understand the need to not want people to think God would choose anyone based on ethnicity, but (and correct me if I am wrong) from what I see in Scripture, the Jewish people did not even exist until God called 1 man and from him by His command to marry and reproduce within their own people an ethnicity nation or people group however you want to describe it was created and to that created ethnic (by His doing) nation He has made promises (including unconditionally bringing them into the NC), and yes there is an Israel within that Israel, and when God fully fulfills that promise and removes that partial hardening on that nation that He broke off He will graft those people back in, the ones He sovereignty gives hearts of flesh before time.

      And then you have your off the wall “2 Gospels” types who send every unbelieving Christ rejecting Jew to Heaven, that is not Biblical, actually it’s anti-Biblical, and Anti-Christ. I always tell disspensationalists by tradition I know who ask about the Jews (and who are of the Hagee variety) if you meet a Jew give them the Gospel they are headed to Hell without it (and watch for their reaction lol), will God bring national salvation to Israel? Yes, Which Jews? He knows. When? He knows. but according to Revelation, many will die in unbelief.

  • andrew

    Thanks for this blog post. You may be interested Peter Och’s book, Another Reformation, which sees in various postliberal theologians something closer to a “discontinuity” theology with respect to Israel. He frames the whole discussion quite differently than does your post (i.e., he expands the categories beyond the binary “discontinuity-continuity”). Would be interested to know what you glean from his book if you get a chance to read it! Thanks for your work.

    • Sounds interesting. I definitely see continuity/discontinuity as a spectrum and not a binary option. But it sounds like this book may give more angles. It’s a tricky subject. There is much I agree with in the CT view but some bones I just can’t swallow. Eg certain promises that they say are already fulfilled but by the church, even though the promises were made to Israel. I just can’t stomach that. I’ll try track that book down.

  • Thanks for another column filled with wisdom and insight. I felt this was quite balanced in your discussion of the issue presented, contrary to the contrarians. BTW have you dropped your website? I have been unable to access it for a long period of time, although I have not tried it in the last few days. Are you having problems with your server? or host provider. Just curious. I have kept your site on my short list and am wondering if I should delete the link if you are no longer active there.

    • Thanks for your comment and your interest in Café Seminoid. Sadly the site crashed badly and Inhave not been able to resurrect it. Server trouble. Go ahead and delete it. I feel like my time is better spent on theCripplegate so I won’t be attempting any heroic measures to bring back to life. I must decrease and CGate must increase. 🙂

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  • Hi Clint

    Thank you for a thought-provoking article. I especially liked your closing comments about where one is on the spectrum corresponding to one’s view on baptism. I agree.

    However, I must disagree with the point about one’s commitment to a grammatical-historical hermeneutic. I, for example, am very committed to a grammatical-historical hermeneutic and see a very close, organic connection (covenant theology) between Israel and the Church.

    It seems that the Apostle Paul would also disagree with the statement, “Israel is a nation, but the Church is made up of people from all nations. This means Israelites are ethnically related to Abraham.”

    In Romans 9:6 Paul says the exact opposite (“For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel”) and then goes on to make the point that the true Israel was never the true Israel because of their ethnicity or descent from Abraham. True Israel were always those called by God according to the promise – whether physically descended from Abraham or not. E.g. Romans 9:8 (“This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.”)

    In Romans 11 Paul argues that believing Gentiles are grafted in to the people of God, thus the people of God is now made up of Jews and Gentiles who put their faith in the Christ. Thus, the people of God (or the “Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16, 1 Peter 2:9-10)) is made up of believing people regardless of ethnicity, including those of a Jewish background. There is only one tree, not two. There is only one people of God, not two. God’s people are, and have always been, those who believe the promise.

    The Apostle Paul says the same thing in Galatians 3:29 (“And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”) We are heirs of the promise made to Abraham – both Jews and Gentiles (Galatians 3:28) – not because of ethnicity, but because of faith in Christ.

    Thus Israel exile in the Old Testament, becomes a picture of the whole world exile in the New Testament. Jesus, the Christ/ Messiah, ends our exile.

    PS I know that you were making the point about how one’s view of continuity vs. discontinuity influences a myriad of other views, but I thought I should nail my colours to the mast! Keep up the good work.

    • Fibber MaGee

      So, Romans 9:6 is where the covenants are dissolved and ethnic Israel no longer exists? Sorry, I don’t see that and neither did Paul.The text seems pretty straight forward that it is the descendants of Issac who received that promise and where has Clint or Paul claimed it is all of them? Romans 2:28,29. Why is it so hard for people who defend God’s sovereignty and the doctrine of election to see that they actually challenge them when they support “replacement theology”? What is so terrible about the promises to Israel that you would deny them without solid textual support?

      • Hi Fibber. I’m not advocating replacement theology. What I’m saying is that there has always only ever has been one people of God – those that have been called according to the promise and therefore believe the promise. This applies to the Old and New Testaments. Paul’s point in Romans 9 is that not all Israel is true Israel. True Israel are not those genetically related to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but those who believe God’s promise.

        • The way I take that verse is that Paul is explaining that not all Jews are automatically saved, i.e. not all of ethnic Israel qualify as the true Israel of God. Not all people born in the nation of Israel or God’s chosen, because there were faithful and unfaithful people in the nation. Only those who believe are the Israel of God. It has nothing to do with Gentiles. Paul’s talking about Israel there.

          • Hi Clint, I agree with you that Israel is in focus here. The point is that just being a descendant of Abraham does not make you part of the Israel of God or true Israel. Later though, in Romans 11,Paul’s point is that believing Gentiles are grafted into the one tree i.e. the one people of God.

        • Fibber MaGee

          Hi Andre,
          Yes, I understand what your saying. Unfortunately that is replacement theology and that is not the point of Romans 9. You are making Clint’s point with regard to hermanutics. Do you even realize that you are ignoring what is being said in the whole of chapter 9 and then allogorizing one verse to support your position? Unless someone can demonstrate where the “promise” to ethnic Israel was revoked and somehow that ROM 6:3&4 doesn’t mean what it says then the debate us over.

          • We’ll have to agree to disagree!

          • Jason

            The problem with replacement theology is that it believes that the branches support the root (Romans 11:18). I do not think that is what Andre is advocating.

            Instead of the New Testament replacing the Old, stealing the promises, and then requiring a conversion of Israel to something foreign to reattain their promises we see Paul (Romans 11) speaking of the disciples of Christ as the remnant of Israel when the rest are cut off and both the hardened elect of the Jewish people who would eventually believe (verse 23) and the gentile elect will be grafted in until all of the elect are included.

            Neither separation of branches from root, nor a tree planted with it’s branches in the ground survives.

          • Robert Andrejczyk

            Please refer to my comment to Fibber above.

          • Robert Andrejczyk

            Fibber, on the day of Pentecost when Peter stood up before that vast crowd and began to recount the words of the prophets and the works and words of Jesus of Nazareth and those 3,000 souls were pierced to the heart and asked, “what shall we do?”…wouldn’t that have been the perfect time to explain to them that, “Look, I know I made it sound like this was a fulfillment of all that was promised to us in the Law and Prophets regarding the coming of the Messiah to his people but, don’t misunderstand. You see, those promises are for a new institution called ‘the Church.’ As for ethnic, national Israel…well, they’re a separate entity. We’ll have to wait and see what the plan is for them. God still has to fulfill his promises to the nation.”

            It sounds patently absurd but that is EXACTLY what Dispensationalists would have us believe.

            What DID Peter say? “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” For you, Israel. For your descendants. And to all who are far off, both Jew and Gentile. The promise made to Abraham was brought to glorious fulfillment NOT just to Abraham’s genetic descendants, but to his descendants according to faith.

            One Savior. One way of salvation. One faith. One people of God.

            No promises were revoked. They were fulfilled in a much grander and glorious way than even ethnic Israel anticipated.

            Please cease with the “replacement theology” language. See my first comment on this post. NO Covenant Theologian would use this language and it is a complete misrepresentation of what CT teaches.

          • Fibber MaGee

            I’ll cease using the phrase when you you show me where the promises to ethnic Israel were revoked or if you prefer, assimilated by the church. Neither I or Clint is arguing for two types of salvation. Peter is talking salvation, but Rom 9 is speaking of ethnic Israel. Why would Peter say that at Pentecost? He is presenting the gospel, not explaining the Abrahamic covenant. Along that same reasoning; why didn’t Jesus or the apostles tell us that the covenant had been revoked due to sin. I read your first post. Are you implying that because you grew up dispensational (whatever that means) and now are a CT that you somehow have an understanding that I don’t. Why don’t you listen the the GTY series, “Why every Calvinist should be premillennial”

          • Jason

            Do you agree(along with Clint) that Romans 9 is teaching that not everyone born of Israel is Israel (in the Biblical language)? If so, everyone is in agreement that the promises God made to Israel were not revoked.

          • Fibber MaGee

            I believe Rom 9 is about God’s sovereign election. But everyone here is not in agreement that the covenant with ethnic Israel is still in effect. They are subtly going there by trying to infer a dispensational bent on the main post. This is obviously due to their A-mil position which in my opinion is simply put, not biblical. This effects their eschatological view and I imagine it makes it easier to read things into scripture in other areas that are just not there. I fnd it telling that not one person (ever) has been able to exegete with a literal grammatical hermanutic one shred of evidence to support suppersessionism.

          • Robert Andrejczyk

            Fibber, please read Romans 4. The Abrahamic covenant is the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Christ apart from works of the law. Nothing more. Nothing less.

            To say that Peter “is presenting the gospel, not explaining the Abrahamic covenant” is a fundamental misunderstanding of the text and the historia salutis.

            I have listened to MacArthur on the subject. I love him dearly for the gift he is to the church. However, I have a feeling that taking the time to refute his eschatology point-by-point in an effort to convince you of anything is not time well spent.

            Grace to you, brother.

          • Robert Andrejczyk

            Fibber, I love MacArthur and the gift to the church that he is. I have listened to his sermons that comprise the GTY episodes. However, based upon your posture, I doubt that a point-by-point refutation of those sermons would be a good use of my time. You clearly are not interested in discussion. Besides, comment boxes are not the best place for that.

            I truly doubt you would speak to my face in the same way you have addressed me here. I’m a big boy. I can take it. But it does not make for fruitful discussion. Every time I wander into a combox, I regret it for this very reason. Misrepresentions and poor argumentation fueled by keyboard courage.

  • tovlogos

    Well done Clint — When I lean this essay against Galatians 6:16, I may have problems. It may be that the “Israel of God,”
    is in contrast to 1 Corinthians 10:18, “Israel after the flesh” — the believing Israel in contrast to the unbelieving Israel,
    just as in Romans 9:6 where Paul is distinguishing two Israels — both ethnic Israelites. It would appear that the blessings of the
    true believers in Jesus go up in the Rapture; Israel attains salvation during Jacob’s Trouble (Jeremiah 30:7)

    “And when they read verses where God makes positive promises to Israel, those promises are transferable to the Christian Church.”
    It appears to me that to receive the rewards of Judaism, one would have to convert to Judaism. Of course that would mean you deny Christ.
    The majority of what I’ve been reading suggests that your statement here is highly debatable; Of course there is some overlap
    spiritually speaking — although theologically the end in view is eternally with the Lord.

    One thing is clear — recognizing that Jesus came unto the Jews is vital to begin proper exegetical organization — for example, when He
    was speaking to Nicodemus in John 3. And likewise, to the Samaritan woman, John 4:24, bc attaining spiritually was exceedingly difficult to assimilate when
    they have been thoroughly conditioned in a negative, condemning system of laws.

    • Right. As I tried to explain in the reply to Andre Visagie’s reply to Fibber’s reply to him.

      • tovlogos

        Absolutely — Amen, brother.

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  • Eric Price

    Thanks for this article, Clint. As someone who is formerly (but no longer) dispensational, I do believe that the church is in some sense the new/true Israel. But I don’t see the Israel-church relationship as a simple matter of “replacement” wherein the church takes on every characteristic of OT Israel.

    The continuity between Israel and the church comes from the fact that Jesus himself is the fulfillment of Israel and is himself the faithful Israelite. Thus, all who are united to him become part of true Israel. This is why the NT can see Israel’s covenants fulfilled in the church (i.e. Acts 2:29-31, Heb. 8:7-13) and apply titles for OT Israel to the church (i.e. 1 Pet. 2:9-10).

    There is certainly discontinuity as well. To give one example, you mention the curses and blessings. Though I believe the church is the true Israel, I would say that the blessings and cruses in the OT typologically showed that the penalty for sin is death. Jesus fulfilled this by becoming a curse for us (Gal. 3:13) when he bore our sins. So even though there is a fundamental continuity between Israel and the church, there is also transformation and discontinuity that takes place. In my view, covenant theology tends to overemphasize the continuity (hence paedobaptism) whereas dispensationalism tends to overemphasize the discontinuity.